On April 10, 2013 the ROM hosted a panel discussion featuring designer Jeremy Laing, Ryerson University School of Fashion chair Robert Ott, branding and fashion lawyer Ashlee Froese and Nicholas Mellamphy, Vice President and Buying Direction of HBC’s The Room. They gave their two cents when the marvelous Jeanne Beker asked the hard-hitting questions: How does one deal with the fashion industry pressures? What does it mean to be Canadian in the industry? Is Victoria Beckham really a fashion designer? It was an eventful hour and a half.
Here’s how Star Trek factors in: Remember that episode when the Enterprise runs into the space probe Nomad, whose mission is to “find and sterilize imperfection?” No? Okay. Basically the episode delves into the man versus machine mythos that also underlined this panel discussion. Whilst no Borg were present, Mellamphy made the interesting conclusion that the industry can now be summarized as: online shopping vs. retailers and bloggers vs. journalists. These are two huge topics, and seeing as resistance is futile, let’s just get right to it.
Call me old-fashioned, but I much prefer shopping in-store. Granted, we all have those days when we just don’t want to wear real pants, but this virtual world lacks helpful salespeople and the thrill of the hunt. We lose, to borrow a line from Confessions of a Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood, the excitement of grasping the handles of a bag knowing that the goodies inside are yours. Like me, the panelists had their reservations. Although Mellamphy acknowledged that online retailing provides a solid platform for emerging designers, making their products accessible to all, he made the point that retailers now have to come up with innovative ways to attract customers to their shops. Ott was concerned with how this sudden surge of online shopping had dramatically affected retail stores, such as The Bay. The virtual world is convenient, and though it’s not entirely bad, it has lowered sales and could put many out of work. We want what we want and we want it now. The Internet can give us this. Real stores take more effort. And with that, Scotty, beam us to our next issue.
Fashion bloggers have shaped this new generation of “Internet dressers,” as Laing likes to call them. They have become the new fashion authority. But is it really authority when practically every under-30 has a different opinion? Do we even care about fashion authority in this day and age? The Jeanne Bekers and Suzy Menkes‘ of this generation are the thousands who have access to Tumblr and Instagram. And this seemed okay with the panel, because it meant fashion had become democratized, everyone can wear fast fashions and everyone can express their opinions on it. Even fashion shows have become affected by this radical change. Long gone are the days of the whimsical McQueen or Galliano show, as Beker reminisced. Now, Laing pointed out, shows are created for Instagram. Designers are responding to the iPhone generation, opting for low-key, minimalist approaches that would surely impress the always logical Mr. Spock.
The panelists gave me a lot to think about, even as I frantically tried to copy down everything being said while maintaining my cool—alas, it was my first time at one of these events, and a girl’s gotta start somewhere. I did get my (beloved) photo with Jeanne Beker and left thinking that despite the constant and radical changes that face it, the fashion industry can handle what is to come and live long and prosper.